Lawrence beats back Blueboys to remain undefeated

Lawrence's Abhishek Venkatesh came off the bench to score 13 points in the Vikings' win over Illinois College.
Lawrence's Abhishek Venkatesh came off the bench to score 13 points in the Vikings' win over Illinois College.

APPLETON, Wis. -- The Lawrence University men's basketball team held off Illinois College 76-72 Friday night in the Midwest Conference opener at Alexander Gymasium.

Rookie forward Bryce Denham scored 18 points, grabbed eight rebounds and dished out four assists for the Vikings, who improved to 4-0 for the first time since the 2007-08 season. Senior guard Jeremy Stephani added 17 points, and Abhishek Venkatesh came off the bench with 13 points. Senior forward Ben Peterson added 12 points and tied for team-high honors with eight rebounds.

Mason Speer led Illinois College (3-1, 0-1 MWC) with 22 points, and Brady Hays added 20. Sean McDonald had a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds for the Blueboys.

Lawrence led by as many as nine points several times in the second half, but the Blueboys kept bouncing back.

The Vikings looked liked they had put Illinois College away after Stephani made a pair of free throws with 22 seconds left for a 73-65 advantage. After Speer hit a layup and Stephani converted one of two free throws, Hays was fouled and made two free throws to trim the margin to 74-69 with six seconds remaining.

Lawrence turned it over on the ensuing inbounds pass and McDonald converted a three-point play to cut the margin to 74-72 with five seconds left. The Blueboys fouled Venkatesh, who buried both free throws with three seconds left to seal the victory.

Lawrence's flexed its depth again as the 11 Vikings saw action in the game and multiple players made big contributions off the bench. In addition to Venkatesh, who played 26 minutes, the Vikings got quality efforts from George Mavrakis, Mason Materna and Dylan Hamlin. Materna had seven points and four rebounds in 16 minutes, and Mavrakis added six points and two boards in 17 minutes while also guarding Speer. Hamlin picked up two points, five rebounds and two blocks in his 14 minutes.

Lawrence pushed its winning streak against Illinois College to 13 games, and the Vikings have now won 25 of the last 27 meetings.